BRIMFIELD – Boston-based First Wind has withdrawn a proposal to build a wind farm on top of West Mountain, a move that has pleased its opponents.
“West Mountain was not the place for eight to 10 wind turbines, and I’m happy that they’re leaving. I’m calling everybody that I can think of,” Selectman Diane M. Panaccione said.
First Wind issued a statement on Thursday about the decision, saying that there is not enough wind at the site to support a wind farm. The company had proposed installing eight to 10 wind turbines to generate electricity. The proposed site on the mountain is near Steerage Rock, the town’s symbol.
“We have made the decision not to pursue permitting of a wind project in the town of Brimfield,” First Wind’s communications director John R. Lamontagne stated. “After assessing the meteorological data collected in Brimfield, we have determined that the wind characteristics do not meet our requirements at this time. We remain strongly committed to wind development in the Northeast. We will continue to look for potential projects in Massachusetts and appreciate the local interest and support we received as we explored this potential project.”
In September more than 200 residents packed a selectmen’s meeting to make their opposition to the project clear. There were some supporters, but most of the people at the meeting expressed worries about noise, changes to the landscape and blasting that could affect water wells.
Opponents organized the No Brimfield Wind group against the project, and also cited concerns about the project’s proximity to 79 homes.
Selectmen last year refused to accept a $30,000 payment from First Wind that could be used by the town to hire experts to help investigate economic, environmental, engineering and other aspects of the project. Panaccione said that First Wind never provided any of its study results to selectmen in its 11 months of studying the site.
State Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, who was notified of the development earlier this week, said “science should always determine these investments. If you don’t have the wind in this location, then you don’t have the wind.”
Brewer said he believes in green energy, but also believes in the self-determination of communities.
There is a wind farm siting bill pending in the Legislature that Brewer said is “nebulous” and could have the potential to override local zoning ordinances. Brewer has filed an amendment to the bill ensuring that local zoning remains in effect when dealing with these projects.
In Brimfield, representatives of the company and the town had said the project could not be built without a zoning bylaw change that would take a two-thirds vote at Town Meeting to be approved.
Corporation representatives have said First Wind would wind up paying the town up to $170,000 annually if the turbines were operational, plus some additional money for community purposes.
First Wind was interested in Brimfield because Lamontagne said the company was under the impression it would be a strong location for wind and transmission. Lamontagne said a meteorological pole was erected at the site approximately 11 months ago to test the wind at the site.
Lamontagne said because “it was early in the process” the size of the turbines had not been determined. He said in other areas where the company has wind turbines, such as Maine and in New York, turbines can range in size from 260 feet to 420 feet. If built, the project in Brimfield would have had the capacity to generate 20 to 30 megawatts of power, roughly enough electricity to power between 7,000 and 10,000 homes a year, he said.
Lamontagne acknowledged the project had its detractors, and said there were “a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions spread about wind energy.” But he said they had also spoken to folks who were supportive of it.
Virginia A. Irvine, a founding member of No Brimfield Wind who lives near the site, said she is pleased the fight is over, but is continuing to monitor the legislation for siting such projects. Another member, David G. Carpenter, said he is “cautiously happy” about the development.
“Wind projects are really good in places where there are no people, the wilderness of Maine, off in the ocean, the top of the mountains in Hawaii,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter added that “it’s a good day for the people in Brimfield who turned out in droves” to oppose the project at meetings.
William B. Hull, general partner of Hull Forest Lands in Pomfret, Conn., which owns 300 acres in Brimfield, said he has not heard anything directly from First Wind about its plans. Hull uses part of the Brimfield site as a tree farm, and First Wind had an option on the property. He declined to say how much land First Wind wanted to use, or how much money was involved.
“It is our further understanding that the company is in the process of contacting the landowners and will be removing the equipment from the site in the near future,” Kate Cohen, Brewer’s chief of staff, wrote in an email.
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